Nicholas County will welcome three new foreign exchange students this year, two from Germany and one from Norway. They have all arrived and are preparing for their year as members of the Nicholas County Class of 2013. This week, the Courier profiles Maria Opperud.
Maria Opperud, 17, is not the first in her family to spend an extended time in the United States. Her mother, Vigdis Opperud, spent three years working as an au pair to a family in Connecticut when she was in her 20s.
While her mother never pushed Maria to be an exchange student, she supported the idea even if it meant that the two of them would be away from each other for nearly a year. Maria is Vigdis’ only child. They live in Hønefoss, Norway. Maria’s grandmother lives close by and she spends a great deal of time with her as well, almost every other weekend. Her grandfather passed away a while ago, so her mother and grandmother comprise Maria’s immediate family.
The village of Hønefoss is about an hour outside Oslo, Norway’s largest city, and has a population of about 30,000 people. It’s roughly the size of Bourbon County.
Most likely because of the stories her mother told of her experience abroad, Maria has always known that she would spend time in the United States. But she has wanted this opportunity for more reasons than just her mother’s influence. The USA has been a genuine curiosity for her for years and not in just the typical way that most foreign students view America through the movies and music that our country exports.
From watching news and sports events, Maria said that America seems so much more “gung ho” about the things that they like than she and her friends do in Norway. In particular, she loves the way Americans show how much they like their favorite sports teams.
She likes seeing fans in costumes and makeup cheering for their team. It is one of the reasons that she looks forward to being a cheerleader for the Nicholas County Bluejackets. She wants to experience that kind of excitement herself. High schools in Norway don’t have competitive sports programs, so there is no opportunity to cheer for a team in the same way.
Back in Hønefoss, Maria is a member of a cheer-dance squad called the Dandelions. Dance teams are popular in Norway, but they are very different from the cheerleading she watched in the United States. When she learned that she would be going to Kentucky, Maria also found out the University of Kentucky has a champion cheerleading squad. What she saw on the internet, the gymnastics and tumbling routines and coeds thrown high into the air, surprised her.
She has never been part of a cheerleading squad that does gymnastics. The chance to be part of the Nicholas County cheerleading squad and learn these routines is exciting. “I have already met with some of the [Nicholas County] cheerleaders and with my coach, Ms. Letcher. Everyone has been really nice to me,” Maria said..
That was one of the first things she noticed when she arrived in the United States. She spent her first two weeks in America at an orientation camp for exchange students at Norwich University in Vermont. The students would walk around campus and people just said hello like they were old friends.
“People don’t even know you, but they say hello and wave anyway,” Maria said. “That’s just not something that happens in Norway. Americans just seem so much more open.”
Maria knows she will miss her mother and grandmother, but there is always Facebook, Skype, e-mail and so many other ways to talk in this internet age. Norwegian chocolate, on the other hand, will not be so easy to get. Maria knows she will miss that a lot.
“There are many great things about America,” Maria said, “but Norway still has the best chocolate!”
One thing she won’t miss – Norwegian winters.
Even though she enjoys skiing and ice skating, winters in Norway can get so cold that students stay home from school not because of snow and ice on the ground, but because the temperature can get dangerously cold. Besides the deadly cold, there is also the fact that the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 10 am and then goes back down around three in the afternoon.
“I really won’t mind spending a year with just a mild winter.